Microsoft Rolls Out Bing Streetside In London

Microsoft is hoping to challenge Google Street View’s dominance in visual mapping with its Streetside feature

Microsoft has started rolling out its ‘Streetside’ feature for Bing Maps in the UK, with the first street-level images of London emerging late last week.

Microsoft announced back in April that its Streetside cars had started collecting 360-degree photos of UK streets in London and other European cities, following the US launch of the service in 2009. The Streetside visual mapping feature for Bing has been billed as a competitor to Google Street View.

The London images are the first to emerge, with Manchester and the Merseyside area expected to follow soon. “We’re not setting out to record every street,” Microsoft’s director of search Dave Coplin told the BBC in April. “We believe it is most valuable in urban centres where people want to find services.”

Silverlight needed for full version

Bing users can access the new Streetside feature by going to Bing Maps and clicking the ‘person’ icon on the toolbar above the map. Areas covered by the service will be highlighted in blue. Users can then zoom in and place the icon on a particular street, to get a 360-degree view from that spot.

To get the full “immersive” Bing Streetside experience, users need to install Silverlight – Microsoft’s alternative to Adobe’s Flash Player. This provides a user interface akin to Google Street View, with high-quality street imagery and the ability to rotate and adjust your position within the application.

However, users without Silverlight are forced to make do with “Bing Maps Classic” – which displays the street-level imagery as a single static panoramic photo, alongside a map pinpointing the corresponding location (see below). A list of nearby shops and attractions also appears below the image in classic mode.

Privacy precautions

Microsoft is working hard to avoid the privacy concerns that have plagued Google since the launch of its Street View service. On a dedicated website, the company explains that it uses image processing software to automatically blur faces and vehicle number plates.

“In addition, anyone may flag any image they feel is inappropriate or sensitive for review and possible removal,” the company states. “Microsoft specialists review every request and act quickly to remove objectionable imagery.”

The focus on privacy is perhaps wise, in light of the hostile reception Google Street View has received in some town and cities. In 2009 a group of British villagers from Broughton formed a human chain to turn away a car shooting images for Street View.

The service has also been the subject of official enquiries, after it accidentally collected more than 600GB of payload data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks while photographing streets around the world.

Google confirmed at Christmas it had deleted the last of the UK data collected by its Street View cars in the notorious ‘WiSpy’ incident. But the company had to endure months of controversy and investigations, including one from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as many overseas probes.

Microsoft informed eWEEK Europe that while the Streetside cars are not currently collecting Wi-Fi data, the company has asked the UK regulator for permission to map out the location of Wi-Fi networks in the UK. However, it said that if this permission is granted, the cars will refrain from collecting payload data.